Whether you're preparing lunch for the schoolyard or office, or just carting your midday meal from the kitchen to your home dining space, chances are you know how easily lunchtime can become something of a dietary downfall. Breakfast is easy: you likely have a little more time to spend on making a healthy creation from the findings in your fridge or pantry. Dinner isn't usually too bad either, especially if you've given a little thought to meal planning. But lunch inherently falls during your most distracted part of the day—between what's on your plate and those in your household. While there's an increasing number of healthier takeout options available, none of them can compete with the clean-food prowess of making your own personalized dish.
With just a little bit of prep (that often can be done via batch cooking for the whole week), you can design a balanced menu based on your specific health goals and food preferences. Here are four of the most effective ways you can turn lunch-making into one of your healthiest habits yet.
1. Include Easily Digestible Protein
Lunch is not a time to skimp on protein. The amino acids that compose proteins are essential for proper brain function and also help keep you feeling fuller longer. The downside to protein is that it takes more energy for the body to digest than other macronutrients—and more energy spent on digestion means less energy for the rest of your body. Ever experienced a post-lunch mental slump? If you're nodding your head, you've experienced a robbery via the stomach energy bandit. The good news is, proteins vary on how easily they are digested—and the most efficient, energy-saving proteins are alkaline, plant-based proteins. Foods that are very high in these types of quality proteins include hemp seeds, chia seeds, lentils and quinoa.
2. Keep Sugars Low
Speaking of energy, nothing sets up a body for a roller coaster ride faster than excess sugar. Sugar is one of the most pervasive ingredients in modern-day food—a solid reason to control your consumption by making your own meals (and knowing exactly what's in them). Try to avoid desserts during this midday time, and if you feel the need for something sweet, munch on a few of your favorite nutrient-dense fruits, such as blueberries, mulberries or apple slices to help satisfy your craving.
3. Add Vegetables
If you struggle to get enough vegetables throughout the day, be sure to include some in your lunch meal (especially the green ones). And that doesn't mean just chowing down on salads. Look for ways to add vegetables to your favorite meals and snacks, too. Add bell peppers and carrots to wraps; stack leafy greens in sandwiches; pile some broccoli florets into hummus. The more you can break up your vegetable consumption throughout the day, the easier it will become to meet your nutritional needs as a whole.
4. Incorporate Superfoods
We mentioned several superfoods here already, such as blueberries and hemp, but it really helps to keep this type of mentality in focus throughout every aspect of your meal. When putting together the components of your lunch, ask yourself, “Is there anything I can add to make this better?” Can you stir some wheatgrass into your dipping sauce? Can you replace your rice with quinoa? Can you add some goji berries to your trail mix? The more nutrients you can work into your lunch hour, the better you will feel all day long.